10 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Be Wildcrafting
I am a firm believer that we are to work for the plants, and the plants are not to work for us. Although, plants are selfless beings who always tend to give and work for us, but it is not our job to rely on their humbleness. Over the past few years, as I have taken on this role of being a Herbalist and being an advocate for the plants, I find myself evolving into a deeper and more meaningful relationship with the land. For me, this has evolved in many ways, although surely it’s progressed through my environmental advocacy and my ongoing education as I strengthen my awareness towards environmental ethics and conservation strategies. We are living in a time of now or never. We have pushed the bar too far, and now our only option is to put the land and its native people first.
Recently, I went on a wonderful solo trip through the deep hills and forests here in my state of Ohio, a land that is filled with rich native history. I was traveling to The United Plant Savers 25th celebration hosted by massive thought leaders such as Rosemary Gladstar, Bevin Clare and so many more. It was a beautiful and inspiring event that I was lucky enough to attend that really sparked a true desire within me to push further in my practice for sustainable Herbalism. During the event there was a lot of musings around the land that the United Plant Savers Sanctuary was built on, and how Ohio was not an accidental stomping ground for this building to reside. For me, that touched me because Ohio is where I do call home, and I’ve been looking for ways in which I can better support this state and it’s rich native stories to the best of my ability. As a privileged white woman, over the years I never really thought twice about the land I was standing on. I was naive, unacquainted and often times dismissive of the world around me. Not because I didn’t want to understand, but because I didn’t think there was anything to understand. While that’s difficult for me to admit, it’s been the truth. I didn’t grow up being taught about this land, and how Ohio alone was a name that was derived from the Iroquois Indians who made land here. They named Ohio after the “Great Rivers”. Majority of us who live in the states see Ohio to just be a nothing state, a state only good for corn crops and big farmland. Sometimes people will say to me: “Why Ohio? What’s good in Ohio?”, and most times I just laugh and play along and say: “I don’t know, I just came here when my mom married and made the trip from Colorado”. So, that sits heavy with me too. Sure, Colorado is a beautiful home that I dream about every single day. It’s a state that I resonate with deeply and that I miss, but I have to say this.. if we are to be ones to evolve with the land, make relationship with the land and its plants, and honor the native people who we stole land from, we can no longer have ill will towards any territory. There’s so much beauty to be told about all of the states here in America, and all over the world, and on my solo trip to the United Plant Savers, stories of Ohio were told and it changed my view forever.
The Issue of Wildcrafting
While I want to dedicate this post to the ethics around wildcrafting and the sustainability factors that are to be at play, it feels really important for me to preface this entry to talk briefly about my attendance to the UpS event. The UpS organization centers themselves around medicinal plant conservation, a topic I have been increasingly inspired to take part in so I can further center myself around the solution for plant advocacy and climate awareness. As a Herbalist, I think often about the scarcity that our medicine is becoming due to man-made ignorance. As we grow into a society that looks to the outside world once again, today's culture is continuing to harm. We can no longer believe that by using plants we are being sustainable.
While I'm also teaching about the endangered species of plants that are common in our herbal practices, I have to think long term. It means instead of purchasing our medicine, we need to grow our own medicine. We have to connect with our land, and we have to stop with the trend of purchasing an abundance of plants from large herbal companies. Listen, I am guilty. Let me just put that on my shoulders before your own. There are always exceptions, and there is always a reason to support companies who are doing good- but the biggest thing you can do to support the land as a whole and our bodies is by looking to sustain our own means, and to look outside our window.
”Where once herbal enterprises were few and far between, it is now a competitive marketplace which has increased the demand on wild medicinal plant resources. Furthermore, other countries with an uninterrupted tradition of herbalism are experiencing a severe shortage of medicinal plants and look to the North American continent for supplying these herbs. This increased usage along with habitat destruction is causing an ever-increasing shortage of wild plant resources, including some of our most treasured medicinal species.” -United Plant Savers
So, what about wildcrafting?
The definition of wildcrafting is to gather plants from the wild. That means harvesting plants from your local forests or pieces of land that are not solely your owned property. The practice of wildcrafting is a beautiful one and is the practice I’ve had the joy of partaking in when wanting to understand plants in their habitat, understand how they grow, what they look like and so much more. It’s a wonderful way to find a connection to the plants. My goal isn’t to tell you to never wildcraft, but to shed some light on the harmful impacts it can have. After all, foraging and wildcrafting is a practice that our ancestors took part in for generations and is how they gathered their food and medicine. I believe wildcrafting is in our lineage, it’s a part of us. Although, our world has shifted and the greed and over-use of wildcrafting have damaged our ecosystem in more ways than one. We must remember that plants are a crucial part of sustaining our ecosystem and its inhabitants.
Does this mean you should never wildcraft or forage again?
No. In fact, foraging and wildcrafting for our beloved plants will always be a small part of my practice and personal connection with the plants. However, I will help outline ways in which wildcrafting is harmful to plant conservation, but also how to further forage and wildcraft in an ethical manner so you can feel good about the acts you are doing. This should be the smallest part of your practice, and not a reliant for sourcing your herbs.
10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Be Wildcrafting
Is It True | Is It Kind | Is It Necessary
Plant Identification Apps are not your friend. The use of plant identification apps is not a sure way to I.D a plant. In fact, there are simply too many “look-alike” plants to be sure you found what you are looking for. Our cameras and their AI systems are not advanced enough to notice the difference. You should have a dichotomous key and a basic understanding of plant identification before partaking in the harvest.
The ecosystem needs the species more than you do. All plants deserve to have the right of refusal of you harvesting their yield. In fact, we are living in a world where the abundance of plants is a crucial element to the survival and regeneration of proper climate control. Local abundance does not rule out regional scarcity.
The removal of the root systems is the removal of regeneration. It’s important to know that removing the roots completely from a plant, prevents that singular plant from regenerating itself. While some plants do self-seed, it is not enough to say that we can still take the roots. Ask yourself if the aerial parts of the plant are a better option. Also, by removing root systems you could be disturbing the soil and its microorganisms.
If you are not familiar with the plant, you should never harvest it. Being aware of the plant you are harvesting is crucial to the vitality of its species. Unless you have a far-reaching understanding of the plant, and you have a good reason for its harvest, it should never end up in your foraging basket. More so, an overharvest is far too common. Often times we take more than we use, that’s why it’s important to understand your familiarity.
Pollinators need plants to pollinate. It may seem okay at a glance to harvest flowering tops from plants in an abundant field, although, pollinators alone are at-risk for endangerment, we see this in popularity through bees. The removal of flowers removes the ability for pollinators to feed, and the ability for the plant to regenerate.
Removing branches or stems alters the reformation. When harvesting these parts of the plant, some plants have trouble regenerating their natural pattern, which will also prevent the plant from properly flowering, which again is crucial to pollinators.
The harvest of fruits removes a vital food source for wildlife. Often times we forget that plants are part of a greater ecosystem and food cycle. The consistent removal of berries from plants takes a food source away from animals, which is oftentimes one of the very few food sources some animals have. It’s also important to note that berries are some of the more vastly toxic parts of the plant, so having a proper ID is of vital importance to your safety.
Walking through damp ground compacts the soil. Soil erosion is a key player in environmental tragedies. This is the displacement of the upper layer of soil, and it is one form of soil degradation. Compacting soil prevents proper aeration and re-growth.
There are many endangered plants you may not be aware of. Often sought after plants such as goldenseal, echinacea, lobelia, and ginseng are only but a small number of popular plants that are being over-harvested for commercial use. It is imperative to leave these plants in the wild and to never harvest. Make sure you are for certain the plant you have positively ID’d is not at-risk.
Depending on your harvesting technique, you could be inhibiting regeneration. If you are wildcrafting, it’s important to not only have clean and proper tools, but it’s also important to understand how and when a plant reproduces. This considers the season you are in, as well as understanding where you are cutting. Sometimes, your tools can sicken a plant, or your improper cutting could stunt the sex organs from reproducing.